Optimizing software development for autonomous aircraft

We helped the U.S. Navy keep pace with the rate of technology change as software increasingly dominates the cost and time required to build military aircraft.

About

PMA-268 is a U.S. Navy procurement authority responsible for two major initiatives: UCAS-D and UCLASS. The purpose of these efforts is to advance the Navy’s full-size autonomous aircraft capabilities and improve their integration into aircraft carrier groups.

UCAS-D’s mission was to demonstrate the integration of autonomous aircraft into carrier group operations, thus proving the concept and reducing risk for future development efforts. UCLASS would then take what was learned and produce the first set of full-size autonomous aircraft actually integrated into aircraft carrier groups.

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Challenges

It takes decades to design and develop modern aircraft, but during that same period software state-of-the-art will have changed many times. At the same time, software is an increasingly dominant aspect of modern aircraft. It’s a significant challenge to integrate rapidly changing software techniques and processes into the relatively long time scales of aircraft design and development.

It was also challenging to introduce new techniques and processes to teams that may not have used them before, particularly given the need to maintain development velocity to meet program timelines.

What We Did Icon

What We Did

We introduced Scrum and a standard development infrastructure to facilitate collaboration and simplify and speed software development. Then, we built a common operating environment to make it easier to build and evolve software applications, maximize code reuse, and reduce development cost. Finally, we built a number of demonstration applications to prove the effectiveness of these tools and techniques.

We:

  • Created and pitched the concept
  • Set the overall strategy
  • Recruited other companies to join the effort
  • Introduced techniques and concepts to the development teams
  • Led architecture and design efforts
  • Led application and infrastructure development teams
  • Developed significant portions of the infrastructure and application software
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The Results

Over the course of three years, we introduced Scrum, developed and deployed a standard software development environment, and created a common operating environment for autonomous aircraft software. We also created several demonstration applications using these tools and techniques, including carrier landing, air-to-air refueling, and various operator stations for human-in-the-loop monitoring and management.

The processes, techniques, and tools we introduced demonstrated a 40% reduction in application software development over traditional approaches, thus proving the potential for significant cost savings and dramatically improved responsiveness for critical Navy programs.

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